For the past three days the history departments of Furman and Clemson Universities have hosted a conference on the history of Upstate South Carolina entitled "Our Past Before Us." Work prevented me from attending the majority of the workshops, but I was able to get to a couple of the sessions on Saturday.
The first session I attended was by Dr. Charles Wilson of the University of Mississippi on the emergence of musical styles unique to the Upstate. As one might imagine, these focus mostly on country, bluegrass, and gospel. Wilson pointed out the unique nature of Piedmont Blues, which tends to have a lighter, more whimsical style than Delta Blues. Of course, the importance of "Singing Billy" Walker of Spartanburg, publisher of Southern Harmony , was highlighted as a promoter of shaped-note singing in the area.
The next series of talks was on religious development of the Upstate. Darren Grim presented a brief history as related to post WWII religious development. One interesting aspect of his talk was the irony of Greenville’s Chamber of Commerce as it tried to lure Bob Jones University from Tennessee. The Chamber touted the "progressive nature" of Greenville. As evengelical denominations expanded, they often referred to these expansions as manifestations of God’s blessings.
Sam Britt and Claude Stulting led a fascinating talk on the expansion of Hinduism, Jainism, and Islam in the area. Centers for these religions tended to develop around Interstate corridors, as the increeased mobility of these areas led to an influx of new industry and immigrants.
Claude Stulting described one of the major centers of Islam in the state, which is located here in Greenville. There is a wide variety within this small organization, representing nearly 40 different countries within its walls. With this also comes a wide variety of beliefs. Imagine if only one small building housed both progressive and fundamentalist Baptists, and you might get an idea of the problems this would pose. At the end of his talk, Claude talked about initiatives that various groups are making toward accepting religious diversity
There was some interesting information presented in these sessions, and I wish I had been able to attend some of the other sessions. When I sat in the first session, I had my doubts, though. The presenter simply read from his paper, with very little multimedia support. Seems this is de riguer for history presentations. As much as I deplore "Death by PowerPoint," I was ready for SOMETHING to mix it up. Laura confirmed that different disciplines have different protocols for how they present information in conferences. History, Political Science, and Philosophy tend to read carefully prepared papers, whereas sciences are a bit more conversational. It just seemed to me that if the point is to make history alive and relevant, a lecture isn’t that way to do that.